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Is it either helpful or necessary to talk of the authority of the Bible in contemporary mission and ministry?
To answer this question, we will first develop an understanding of how God appears in the Old Testament (OT), observing the development and nature of Gods authority. In the New Testament (NT) we see the Authority of God focus on Jesus and the narratives of his life. As the Church grew, we see how she tries to understand which books are canonical and how through deviation in interpretation parts of the Church began to break away.
We will then look at how the Anglican Church viewed authority, the authority of the ordained, and what the 39 articles say about Scripture. We then look at some of the arguments linked to using the models of interpreting Scripture, focusing on Scripture-Tradition-Reason, focusing on the Baltimore Declaration. This opens into a short discussion on Inspiration, before looking deeper into the challenges of historical interpretations. We will then touch on how Anthropology and Language interpret the Bible and how this may leave more questions to historical interpretation with the authority of Scripture and proceed to the conclusion.
Old Testament (OT)
In the beginning, God’s words are powerful, commanding, ‘Then God said let there be light and there was light’. An action occurs from his words, bringing life to the universe and to man. If Genesis 1 brings about the history, Genesis 2 conveys creation; God is physically involved, a moulding of man from clay using his own hands, in the image of a mythical God. 
OT Scripture continues to develop, as God in Exodus 19 1- 6 directly voices to the prophets, from whom God expects compliance.
In Jeremiah 1:4 we see God communicating with humanity “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying”  and this develops in Isaiah 55 with God explaining more about himself and the possibility that God points towards Jesus, as in Isaiah 55 10-11, “giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;”
In Nehemiah 8:1-8 we see the words of God, written down, “They told the scribe, Ezra, to bring the book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel”  then the word was conveyed to others in the community, “Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding”.
As God’s relationship with Israel develops it becomes obvious that God is different to gods in other cultures. We find texts such as the ‘Songs of Moses’, which the theologian Drane describes as ‘an ancient poem’ celebrating God’s immensity and goodness to his people of Israel. Drane finds the rhetorical question “Lord, who among the gods is like you? Who is like you, wonderful in holiness? Who can work miracles and mighty acts like yours?” indicating other nations didn’t hold the same views of a monolithic Hebrew God, having gods of their own such as Dagon (Philistines), Chemosh (Moabites) and Baal (Babylonians); these gods depicted through idols, such as a bull for Baal.
In Numbers 25:2-3 we see Israelites straying into idol worship, which God abhors, “So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.” God is not invisible throughout the Bible, but visible through his acts written in scripture rather than a static idol. As the Israelites struggle with their relationship with God, we see the progress of authority through the law.
New Testament (NT)
In the NT authority takes a leap with Jesus, the ‘Son of God’, we see in John 1 Jesus as Gods word, the word became flesh. Jesus’s words and action testified through the gospels written by his disciples unifies with the OT. Jesus quotes the OT Scripture to talk to his disciples and to act out the OT in his life,
In John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”. Here we see God’s words written down by John, one of the most important pieces of Scripture in the NT, encapsulating the Bible into one small passage.
We must heed that when speaking of God, we need to ensure we do not underestimate the meaning. Giles warns us we can only use human words. We do not have other means. God uses human words to communicate, in order that we understand. The depth of these words is inadequate in describing God.
We see the prophesies of the OT come together with the NT to proclaim the authority and mission of Jesus. In Luke 3:4 – 6 (Isaiah 40:3 a voice in the wilderness) and 4:18-19 (Isaiah 61:1 (He anointed me to preach) disclose God’s purpose and Jesus develops an awareness and acceptance for the mission, which is prior to his announcement in the Nazareth Synagogue.
In Acts, we see interpretations of the death of Jesus as foretold in the OT. Ps 118:22 “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone” (Acts 4:11), Ps2:1-2 “Why do the nations conspire, and the people’s plot in vain?” (Acts 4:25-26), and Isa 53:7-8 v7 “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter”, v8” Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people”. (Acts 8:32-33) clearly presumes the death of the Messiah.  Tannehill suggests portions of Isaiah and that of the prophecy of Jesus’s death in scripture is sufficient for Jesus to assert that the Messiah must suffer, highlighting the use of scripture for envisioned readers as a revelation they should simply accept.
Following Jesus’s death and resurrection, Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus in four actions initiates the meal, which then signposts how the Last Supper (Luke 22) and the two episodes of feeding of the multitudes (Luke 9:16 “gives thanks”) bear a resemblance to each other. Jesus takes bread, blesses (Acts 22:19 “gives thanks”) breaks it, and gives it to his companions (Luke 24:30 “gave thanks”) demonstrating post-crucifixion that the commands of the last supper to take bread and wine are to be enacted.
Loveday describes the book of Acts as ‘the only available narrative account’ of the Church in the NT, suggesting it is a ‘unique insight’ as a bridge between the Gospels and Epistles, showing the transitional phase in the NT.
Church and Canon.
The Testaments were originally spread verbally, memorised and later written down as scripture, and this is the catalyst to the formation of a canon. Canon has the meaning of a genuine text, and in time the Church deemed ‘the canon of scripture to be complete. In the first four centuries, the Church grew, preaching the gospel, without needing any agreement on what was taught. 
As the Church grew, disagreements grew as the Church tried to define itself. This is seen in the different number of agreed canonical books in the Bible.The Roman Catholic Church translated from the Greek Septuagint has 73 books due to 7 additional books in their Old Testament: Tobit, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach, and Baruch, whereas the Protestant Bible has 66 books, 39 OT and 37 NT.  Though the focus may not be on what was added to the canon, but what was excluded. Exclusion occurred to ensure books accepted held onto the core message. 
Goldingay suggests that as the Church developed, it needed to form new doctrines of scripture to take into consideration new concepts. These concepts are the models the Church has used to ‘crystallize the doctrine of Scripture’.
Difficulties arose through the centuries on how different people interpreted Scripture. To highlight the issue, let us observe Marcion, described by Olson as a Roman Christian teacher, who vilified Hebrew among Christians and lowered the apostolic writings of James and Matthew as too Jewish.
Marcion focused on the New Testament, as a God of love, discarding the God of the OT, the law, whom he labelled ‘the Demiurge’. He omitted some parts of the New Testament, such as Luke 18.31, as, even though he saw the prophets as moral guides, did not believe any prophecy was fulfilled in the NT. 
Marcion highlights the danger of ‘cherry picking’ out of the bible what you wish to hear. He saw the law as evil, finding the God who judged others a cruel God who had flaws, and therefore could not be perfect. He argued that a God who chose Saul as king, yet later encouraged his defeat, showed a lack of sapience. Though my interpretation may be harsh as Dell argues that ‘Marcion’s work Antitheses is not extant’ and that we only know about him ‘third hand’ from other contemporary critics such as Epiphanius and Justin Martyr.
Tertullian and many others argued for the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures and for the Gospels and Epistles, on their divine prominence. Origen in the third century concurred with Tertullian. The Roman Catholic Church under Pope Damasus I in 382 confirmed the authority of the canonical books, describing them as divine in origin. Protestants in the 16th century rejected the Catholic teaching about tradition being uplifted as a source of Christian belief to the level of Scripture. Protestants instead viewed the Bible over and above all sources, taking out 7 books into the Apocrypha.
Authority in Ordained Office
Authority through Church leaders has been contentious, the Protestant Church call leaders ‘ministers’, implying they are equal to the congregation, where the Anglican Church uses the terms Priest, Vicar and Father.
Volf argues for those in ordained office, as they focus exclusively on the interpretation of biblical passages, with those ordained understanding three important conclusions to explain the ‘charismatic understanding of office’ and the ‘Spirit of God’. First Volf sees the charismata as gifts of the Spirit, underlining that a person is not given the role by the congregation, second that the whole church welcomes such an ordination, being led by the ‘Spirit of God’. Thirdly that such a role is not inevitably permanent with it being a spiritual office (Acts 6:6, 1 Tim. 4.14)
As an Anglican Priest, I have agreed to adhere to the authority of the 39 articles found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, some of the articles mention Authority and Scripture.
Article 6 states “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation” giving the names of the canonical books and the Apocrypha, stating “Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine”. Article 6 is a response to Romanism and what Anglican viewed as radical Protestantism, due to the inference by ‘Rome’ that they could define doctrine that was not described in Scripture. An example is the ‘assumption’ of Mary’.
Article 7 underlines that the Old and New Testament do not contradict each other.
Article 20 is focused on the Authority of the Church, it underlines “the Church may not expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another”.  For Clergy this can have a difficult, due to biblical training as they can spot such scripture passages. The reaction is then to move to a ‘non-repugnant’ passage placing modern contemporary meaning on a piece of scripture that does not hold together.
It is a necessity that we communicate the 39 articles with those who attend church. Discussion around the articles would develop an understanding of the milieu of their Church.
One of the biggest advocates of Church authority over ‘Scripture’ was Richard Hooker. He argued that the Church had governance (Reason) and therefore it had authority in doctrine. This would then ensure doctrine wouldn’t deviate from the faith handed on from generation to generation (Tradition).
If we view Scripture as ‘canon’ it is suggested by Goldingay that Scripture is then a key function which can be fulfilled by unwritten traditions or by written scriptures at various stages of the development, giving the example of shaping books so they could have a role canonically. Whereas ‘the canon of scripture’ is suggestive of a formal list of books, such as the Pentateuch as the books of the law or the four gospels.
Due to the nature of Scripture and canon, it can be a model of contention, when looking into scripture authority it is not long before you come across the Baltimore Declaration. This is a conservative Anglican statement on the Biblical authority by six Episcopal priests in the Diocese of Maryland in 1991 about the confirmation of orthodox Christianity.
Seitz questions the Baltimore Declaration by implying that historical study should not be used in contemporary theological exegesis, believing the Scripture-Reason-Tradition model has its limitations. Seitz suggests a possible alternative approach to the question of authority, signifying a distinction is needed between the ‘Word of God’ as the risen Lord, and the ‘Word of God written’. Seitz Implies that the Church does not stand under the authority of the Gods written Word but does under the authority of the Word of God, namely Jesus Christ. Seitz signposts to Karl Barth and Paul Tillich who are proponents of such views. 
This is picked up by Stephen et al, who suggests a theological reading of Scripture goes in the ‘opposite direction’ from historical criticism in trying to get past having to reason with the Bible’s strains and “seams”.
An advocate for historical criticism can be seen in a Roman Catholic document, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” from 6 January 1994 in which it states that “historical criticism is indispensable for biblical interpretation” Ayres and Fowl in their critique of the same document disagree with its findings and question the human, historical environment of which text requires the continuous use of the historical-critical method to comprehend scripture.
Article 8 of the 39 articles which underlines that the creeds are recognised not due to History or Reason but that ‘their contents may be proved by the definite statements of Holy Scripture’.
Though this does not stop the practice of ‘cherry picking’ scripture by some to answer a contemporary question. Taking Scripture out of the holistic footings can lead to misinterpretation of Biblical tradition.
The narratives of the Bible give the story of the creation of humanity, how it turned its back on God and the Law before Christ came and a new creation could be seen.
Wenham querys if the Pentateuch can be viewed as the books of law, the authority of the OT, due to the main genre being narrative. Van Seters suggests it might be better in calling the first five books ‘a bibliography of Moses’
The Bible is a witness to what happened in narrative form; the tradition is then handed on from generation to generation.
An example of how tradition supported the development of Doctrine, can be seen in the Church’s debates on the Trinity. Giles in outlining orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, strongly underlines that the Trinity was developed in history, and argues that the belief “my doctrine of the Trinity comes directly from Scripture” is untenable. Giles backs up his argument bringing in McGrath who says “the doctrine of the Trinity is the end result of a long process of thinking about the way in which God is sent and active in the world”  Allison concurs that the doctrine of the Trinity took centuries to debate “reaching a settled conviction by the end of the fourth century “
Loveday suggests tradition and Scripture “require to be read in a way to bring their ‘strangeness’, their non-obvious and non-contemporary qualities, in order that they may be read both freshly and truthfully from one generation to the another”
Where Bauckham argues the more specific the meaning of a text, written for its readers, in their historical setting, the less relevance the text appears to have for readers’ today.
Trueman’s view is different, arguing that evangelism “lacks historical rootedness” and doctrinal weight, stability and longevity due to its focus on experiences and social action. Suggesting an alternative to Rome would be ‘confessional Protestantism’.
Though I agree that flexibility of thought around Scripture that Trueman et al suggest, I must lean towards Giles, who believes there is a danger of Evangelicals bringing personal agendas into ‘doing theology’. It stands to reason that without the depth of understanding of the creeds and history of scripture this model could err.
Giles strongly asserts that Reason is imprecise as a source for theologians to use suggesting that Thomas Aquinas thought that reason could discover basic theological truths, giving the example ‘such as the existence of God’, but regarding the doctrine of the Trinity as given by revelation. Giles signposts the Enlightenment thinkers, who developed ‘theological liberalism’, and argued that reason can provide everything needed “to know about the world, ourselves and God”.
Where in the evangelical theology of revelation, God reveals what we need to know about God, this is not discovered by human reason. Giles does accept that ‘reason’ enlightened by the Holy Spirit, does have a significant influence on theology.
Through the history of Christianity many people have spoken about the Holy Spirit, that Olsen suggests should “be judged either as heretical or that least heterodox”. 
Travis argues that if God inspired Biblical writers, meaning the Bible is inspired and therefore it is factually accurate in every respect.” It would be inconceivable, that God would purposefully misinform them and us”. Travis suggests that it is a question of what level of accurateness or information God intended to offer which we can find if we examine scripture and try to see what the authors intended 
Not all Scripture is inspired, Luke’s Gospel does not state that he is inspired to write, rather it appears to have been a good idea at the time. In 2 Timothy 4:13 “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments”, is just common sense. In 1 Corinthians 1.14-16, we see Paul correct himself. Travis proposes if God had been the true author, would he need to correct himself and confess forgetfulness.
The Bible can be inspiring, but so can many published works. There is more to the Bible than a good poem or a literary work, the difference is in the time spent by theologians interpreting Scripture over time.
Historical Inquiries and modernism challenges
Modernism is often pigeon-holed by its presumption that text, such as the Bible, has singular meanings, determined by the author. With those interpreting the text trying to determine the meaning within the text, it is at this point historical inquiry is important, as the text is in a historical context.
The issue is the consistency of the interpretation and the accuracy with the context. As theologians in the 19th century attempted to find the ‘primary’ meaning of the original texts it created tensions when the original meanings challenged the traditional and theological beliefs held for centuries by Church.
Bauckham underlines that Scripture is the primary source, written by many, with many voices, focused on a monotheistic God. “The bible talks about numerous subjects, spanning thousands of years, making it difficult to use small pieces of scripture individually, unless the holistic milieu has been understood”. 
Post-Modern interpretation is different, using historical understanding through modern techniques, readers are free to create meaning for themselves. Giving the modern reader this authority, the danger is that the reader can then ignore other views and focus on their sole interpretation, this dilutes the authority of the original text in its modern translation. 
Nullens is also concerned at such individualistic interpretations “The classical evangelical view of the moral authority of Scripture is being challenged by the postmodern shift”. 
Vanhoozer goes one step further, suggesting Evangelicals themselves have been quick to criticise the effect of modernism on liberal theology, but not seeing ‘the beam of modern epistemology’ in their own eyes and that using the Bible as a sourcebook of ‘objective facts’ is too modernistic. 
Modern and Post-modern can hinder the message of the Bible and its authority, by trying to find the meaning of its own from the texts, trying to hold the text to a specific meaning. Bauckham believes that one of the fundamentals of biblical authority is to listen to the text, which opens up “unlimited possibilities of meaning” 
Vanhoozer uses Augustine to back up his concern that “To make an exclusive claim to the authority of Christ is the oldest temptation of Christianity”
Goldingay suggests that the different views of the Church should not be viewed as related to each other due to the difficulties in relating the church as ‘a mystical communion’ while at the same time ‘a church in servanthood’. He gives the example of trying to combine elements of a painting of Van Gogh with elements of one by Constable, implying they are not part of the ‘same jigsaw’.
Taking Goldingay’s suggestion, I must lean towards Vanhoozer’s concerns, that there is a danger in interpreting the Bible as a collection of data that can then be collated into a group of facts, and then applied to contemporary issues we come across. Taking collections of verses out of their original context, must reduce the original meaning and its original authority. There has been a shift from looking at the Bible as a book of the Law to Scripture that shows us all the way forward, like a GPS on a car highlighting the way to go. While driving a car we must remember the law, and in the same way, we need to look at the Bible as a whole.
My argument is that using the Bible with a pick and mix approach to bring the Bible into modern culture calls into question our own Christian morals as to our use of Scripture. Modern views can be reconciled with Scripture as Blocher suggests when writing about scientific advances, “when interpreting the Bible it must not be taken out of context due to scientific knowledge of today. Moses and others did not have the same understanding as we do today. In order to understand the meaning of scripture, we first need to put such views to one side”.
While advocating constraint, we need to embrace diversity in views. The Church needs to listen to others with compassion and not to fall back harshly as history shows. Too often the Church has reacted strongly to any changes without discussion and compromise. Bauckham asks whether Christianity has an alternative, which understands the issues of authority, obedience and the freedom, where authority is not oppressive. 
Blocher brings wisdom to the argument, with a balanced view. He suggests if we look at the Big Bang theory and how the universe developed with Genesis 1, there is much in agreement. With dating of the earth calculated to 4.5 billion years, the formation of the universe and the earth fit with scientific belief and with the bible. It is only when we take the timings of the bible literally that we have conflict. 
Examples of other Interpretations
Along with the models and methods already discussed there are other studies that highlight specific areas of scripture.
Interpretation of the OT is difficult when anthropologists study people they live amongst, this is not true when we look at the OT. Using the example of the leper in Leviticus 14, it is difficult to understand cultural developments, origin and social customs when the Bible describes how the rituals were acted out, but what we don’t know is the rationale behind those actions. In addition when the leper is cleansed but we do not know what was said. This underlines the difficulties in interpretation when a writer is talking to the audience from (530-332 BC) and therefore does not need to explain certain aspects of a ritual that the audience is already acquainted with.
We could suggest that Authority of Scripture could be weakened if we have not interpreted Scripture correctly in the first place. Investigating the use of language in the Bible is one of those areas, that could determine misinterpretation.
The ancient alphabetic script of Byblos came into use in the first millennium BC. This developed with spaced words, special marks and points, with the eventual appearance of ‘vowel indicators’ into sentences that had previously only been a consonantal script. ‘h, w and y/’ were used for special use known as matres lectionis in Hebrew. One of the scrolls found at Qumran, the Habakkuk Scroll (1QpHab) had several verses written followed by commentary. The commentary section was announced by the word pesher, which means ‘interpreted’. The aim of the commentaries was to link text with the circumstances that happened at the time of writing.  This brings to light the importance of how we interpret Scripture, transcribed from scroll to scroll by well-educated scribes with great accuracy according to Moyise.
Noth explains how specialist scribes were in understanding the reading and writing of ancient scripts; scribes were a ‘proud class’ of ‘educated’ people. Moyise suggests that before the dead sea scrolls were found, the earliest ‘Masoretic Text’ was Habakkuk, written in the 10th Century, and the relationship between these two texts is virtually identical, highlighting the accuracy of Scripture over a ten-thousand-year period.
There is a question surrounding the word law. The word ‘Torah’, usually translated as ‘law’, has a wider meaning than the English translation. Wenham proposes that the Torah, deriving from the verb yarah, meaning to instruct or teach, would be ‘wiser’ to be translated as an instruction rather than law. From our view of law and instruction today, this would mean the Pentateuch would be more of an instruction booklet, rather than a legislative act.
Regarding the NT, Eugene Botha suggests the style of writing is difficult to define and that there has not been enough study on grammar, therefore the study of style has not developed.
Another study has looked at injunctive future, described as “a type of existential future in that it expresses existential futurity, a notion of the future which is presupposed to be as real as a present or past state event.”
This may need to consider a possible misinterpretation of the New Testament. If we mistakenly saw the injunctive future as an expression of Hebraism, these results could infer Matthew as a Jew and Luke a liking for using Septuagint language. The same study observes in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus holding to God’s injunctions through Scripture, hence underlining that Scripture has authority.
Mission and Ministry
Wright suggests In our contemporary world, Scripture has no authority unless it is used by God to point to or express meaning. 
Stephen in his speech in Acts 7 tried to bring everything together to demonstrate that Jesus was the Son of God, who probably quoted the Septuagint, then offers a reflection of Israel’s past, later backing this up by scripture. Quoting Amos is the turning point in Stephen’s speech. Stephen links the past and the present for God’s people. He draws on the analogy between the actions of the contemporary generation toward Jesus and the reaction against Moses by their ancestors in the desert. The result was Stephen stoned to death, which was the start of many persecutions over the centuries to those who tried to spread the faith through the mission.
For scripture to work, it has needed to have been written for a particular audience, so that they can experience God while listening to God’s word, know his love for them, understanding the wisdom behind the words. Though it also needed to be true to the oral tradition, making some narratives clunky, with too much information. This can be seen in Mark 3.17 “James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder)”
Wright states; “It is vital that Christians should ‘experience’ the power and love of God in their own lives. This is never simply a mechanical application of ‘God’s authority’”, suggesting that ‘Experience’ grows as we go through life and that ’Authority’ is what happens when we want to affirm the goodness and free the evilness, allowing the love for God to come from the turmoil. Wright gives a warning that an over–authoritarian church that pays no attention to experience, falls into a faith that is judgmental and judicious.
God does not write scripture down himself, but he points to the important issues; the Gospels point to Jesus, using the verbal and written human language. Through Mission, we need to communicate in contemporary language to those who will listen, allow people to feel and experience the power and the love of God in their own hearts. It is following the words of Jesus and doing what the Father will’s, as Goldingay states it is “not merely about calling Jesus Lord (Luke 6:46; Matt 7:21)”
It is necessary to understand how the Bible developed and how to understand the processes and methods used to understand the historical contexts of God’s words in scripture, and this is the catalyst to the formation of a canon, meaning ‘the canon of scripture’ which the Church deemed to be complete.
I would argue that the Church needs to authorise Biblical interpretations as genuine and acceptable regarding Scripture while reconsidering the Anthropy and language of the original writing, to ensure the authenticity of Scripture and then focus on how to transpose this knowledge into a language preachers can use today in Mission. Without such a rethink, there is a danger of another Marcion.
God is not invisible throughout the Bible, but visible through his acts written in scripture. Therefore we need to ensure we understand the context in order to bring the word of God into the contemporary modern world, to enable mission and ministry. Which may mean we have elements of Scripture that in today’s world may be difficult to explain, but we must talk them through to be genuine and transparent.
If we accept that Christianity as primarily about behaviour, which we need to communicate through the mission, then it is necessary to talk about authority as a central part, that runs alongside mission and through our ministry enables people to understand God’s will.
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